The story of how I came to All Saints’ is a wonderful story of God’s call in the face of my reluctance & doubts.
I had been invited to attend the American Synod of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) being held in Carlsbad, north of San Diego in October 2002. It is customary at SSC Synods to have a guest from another Province, & as Australian Master I attended & gave a sermon at Mass & an address at dinner. I had now been at St Mark’s, Fitzroy for almost 17 years. Some people would consider it was time to move on, but that was the last thing on my mind. On July 1st 2003 St Mark’s would be celebrating its 150th anniversary, & I had in mind a huge celebration. A committee had been meeting & a 6 month programme planned. At the Christmas Midnight Mass we would be releasing a booklet with the programme & celebrations.
I decided to combine the trip to San Diego with part of my annual holidays. I would spend the first 4 days at the SSC Synod, then fly to SF, then to Paris for a fortnight’s holiday.
I arrived in SD on Tuesday Oct 2 & spent a day exploring the city before going up to Carlsbad. The SSC Synod was a fascinating experience. I had always been bemused that American anglocatholic priests were far more conservative that we in Australia & the UK. This was especially so with liturgy, most of their parishes using the traditional rite. The use of the modern Roman Rite was unheard of – they were much more loyal to their prayer book that we were.
During the Synod the priest who was the “Interim Rector” at All Saints’ (All SS), Fr Woodridge, addressed the brethren, explaining that he was the interim there. He stated that it was San Diego’s leading anglocatholic parish & they were interested in having an SSC priest as Rector. Furthermore, he said that 2 members of their Calling C/tee (C/C) would be visiting the Synod next day to meet with any clergy who might be interested in the parish. I thought this was a bizarre way to call a priest, & said so to the priest next to me. He replied: “That’s the way we do things in America!”, & suggested I go to the meeting. The American way of calling clergy intrigued me, so I decided to attend the meeting, & indicated this to Fr Woodridge.
Next day 4 American priests & I met with Fr Woodridge & 2 members of the C/C. He started it rolling, & then left us with the 2 laymen. We were given an introduction to the parish, & then asked to say why we would like to come to All SS. Each one gave a reason – mostly nothing to do with a call from God, I thought. One said that his wife was from California, & they wanted to move back! When they came to me I was rather flippant & said: “I’m not the least bit interested in coming to your parish. I have a wonderful parish in Australia – I just wanted to see the American system of appointing priests”!
The 2 laymen then each spoke about the parish, indicating that they wanted a new Rector by Christmas. We were then invited to ask questions. From memory, the 1st asked about liturgy, the 2nd about finances, the 3rd about the school & the 4th about a Rectory. When it came to my turn I uttered the famous words: “I have never wanted to visit San Diego, let alone move here. What would attract me to your city?” I was told about the theatre, music & art life, & thought to myself that if I wanted that I would move to London!
After the meeting finished I went up to the chief spokesmen & apologised if I seemed flippant. I explained that my parish was celebrating its 150th anniversary on July 1st the following year, & I would be launching the programme at Christmas. Furthermore, after the Synod I was going to Paris for a holiday & doubted I could get them a resume’ before Christmas anyway. In fact I had never done a resume’! Despite all I had said, he handed me his card, saying: “Don’t worry Father, next time you are in San Diego give me a call”.
The Synod over, I flew up to SF. I had been invited to preach on Sunday Oct 6th at the Church of the Advent, SF, to celebrate the 80th birthday of my friend Wayne Fry, whom I had known for 14 years. Then it was on to Munich & Paris for a holiday. I returned to Melbourne at the end of October, immediately getting into the 150th plans. All SS, San Diego faded into the distance.
Because of the 6 month programme planned for the 150th I decided to break up my 2003 holidays into 4 parts. The 1st week was to be in February, before Lent started. I planned to visit friends in Chicago & DC, & then catch up with Bishop Andrew St John in NY. Bishop Andrew had been a regional bishop in Melbourne, & had just taken up a post in the diocese of NY. In LA, whilst waiting for my next flight, I decided to phone a few friends. In my travel wallet I found the card of the All SS layman. I was intrigued to know if they actually got a new Rector for Christmas, so phoned him. He replied, No, saying that the process proved slower than they imagined. I said that I was not surprised – whereupon he asked would I be interested. I thanked him & explained that the reason I was in the US was because of our forthcoming 150th, & I couldn’t consider anything else at this time. He expressed interest in the 150th & asked if I would email him the programme when I returned to Australia.
On my return home I emailed him the programme & referred him to St Mark’s website. He was most impressed by the programme, but even more impressed with what he found on the website. There he could read about our anglocatholic tradition, community centre work with the disadvantaged, my AIDS ministry, the restoration of the church, the associated $1 million we had raised, & the Harrison organ & music programme.
I received an email back, saying how impressive the programme was, & also the parish. Then came this line: “If we are prepared to wait until after July 1st, will you consider All SS?”. I said that I would pray about it & let him know. But in the back of my mind there were 3 nagging doubts:
1. ECUSA was so liberal – could I work in it? 2. All SS was very old-fashioned in its liturgy – & I had never celebrated Mass like that. 3. The idea of applying for a position went against every thing I believed about being called within the church.
We were now in the season of Lent, so as part of my Lenten discipline I included All SS in my prayers. I then went to discuss the matter with my confessor & spiritual adviser. I told him the story to date, as I have outlined it, along with my reasons against considering it. His reply was direct – that I had said “No” to them last October, had said “No” in February, & was about to say “No” for the 3rd time. Then the crunch: “Careful you might be saying “No” to God here”! He encouraged me to at least consider it, pointing out that I liked the US, & it would be relatively easy for me to uproot & move there.
I contacted All SS, & said I was prepared to consider the parish – what was the next move? I was told I would have to apply for the job, & was asked to contact the chairman of the C/C. This, of course, went against everything I believed in…..but I did it. I subsequently received in the mail an invitation to apply, the parish profile & a series of questions to answer. The most interesting was “What is the difference between Anglocatholic & High Church?” I loved that question! I duly responded, & then arranged to speak with my bishop, Andrew Curnow. Bishop Andrew was a great supporter of me & the parish. He also thought this might be God’s call & said: “What will you do after St Mark’s 150th?”. I now confided in the 2 people at St Mark’s I was closest to. Both expressed how sad my leaving St Mark’s would be – but that this could be a wonderful move.
One difficulty was that the C/C could not easily visit to see me preach. So I sent 2 videos of Mass at St Mark’s. One was when we dedicated the Harrison organ & the other an ordinary Sunday Mass with a Baptism. I figured these showed 2 different celebrations & sermons. I was also asked to provide names of referees who could be telephoned. This was hard, & I think I chose 4 from Australia & 2 from the US.
In due course the chairman of the C/C contacted me & arranged for me to be interviewed by the C/C in a telephone call on the Friday of Easter Week. This was what I took as the 1st sign from God. For that Friday was April 25th, which in the Kalendar is St Mark’s Day (deferred that year because of the Easter Octave) – & I was the Vicar of St Mark’s, Fitrzoy. To some it would be just a coincidence, but for a praying christian there is no such thing!
The 2nd sign came via an old friend, David Dornan. David & I had served together at St Paul’s, Port Adelaide, & were both mad supporters of Port Adelaide football club. David emailed me to say that as Port were playing in Melbourne on Easter Sunday he was coming over to Melbourne for the game – & what time was Mass at St Mark’s? I replied: “10.30 am – & I will go to the football with you”. Easter duly arrived. David was very impressed with the Mass, & said how wonderful St Mark’s was. We went off to the football – which Port won – & then went into the city for the post-match presentations. Afterwards I offered to take David to dinner. Being Easter night the city was quiet, but we found a Greek restaurant open. We sat down & were served by a young woman with an American accent. I immediately said: “I’ve been all over America – where are you from?” You can imagine the goose-bumps I felt when she replied: “San Diego”!
I then told David the story up to that point in time. David’s response was immediate: “You should go there. I have been to San Diego, & its a lovely city”!
6 days later came the telephone interview. I had questions prepared, but their initial question was: “Father, do you have a sense of humour?”! Of course I laughed – as anyone who knows me would appreciate! The interview proceeded back & forth, but I found it very frustrating. It was not like usual communication – I couldn’t see them, nor their reactions. As we drew to a close, I told them this, & said that I was prepared to fly to San Diego at my expense to meet face-to-face – but it had to be in the next 2 weeks, because of my schedule. We agreed to that, & I subsequently booked a flight for May 5-8.
On Monday May 5th I flew to San Diego, somewhat apprehensive. I was met by the 2 men from the C/C at the airport & driven to my hotel. We had a discussion about what was in store for me. I was a little tired, but after they left I decided to walk up to All Saints’ – a pleasant 20 min stroll. My 1st impression was not good. The church was not open, it was surrrounded by a fence, & there was no way you could even ring the office door bell! I returned to my hotel with doubts about the whole thing. Tuesday I attended 7 am Mass & was impressed by the church. I was taken to the church later to meet the staff & the school principal. I was quite taken by her. In the evening I met with the C/C. It was a spirited discussion, & I raised the matter of the church not being open during the day. I liked the people & their passion for their parish. Next day I met with the bishop & his staff member for clergy. I felt I could work with that bishop. On the Thursday I flew back to Melbourne, still unsure.
2 weeks later I went on my annual pilgrimage to Walsingham. I decided that I would make the intention “my future”…..but not “my future at All Saints'”. Maybe it was time to move – but God may have something completely surprising up his sleeve! I had felt the definite call to the priesthood at the shrine in 1975, & it had always featured significantly in my vocation. Although I was not expecting another sign, no-one should be surprised that I did indeed receive my 3rd sign there. The last day of my pilgrimage was Ascension Day. I took my place at the Solemn Mass in sanctuary with the other concelebrants seated in the stalls. Directly opposite me was an old friend, Fr Beau Brandie. I smiled at him, & as I looked saw that he was seated in the All Saints'” stall!!!!
On June 5th I flew from London to the USA, & stopped over in San Diego for 2 days. I had offered to meet the C/C, & it was arranged for me to meet the C/C, followed by the Vestry. When I met with the C/C, I told them of my pilgrimage to Walsingham, & that I felt God was indeed calling me to All Saints’. The meeting with the Vestry was a social gathering. I was quite taken aback when 2 of them came up to me & said: “Father, we are praying that you will be our Rector”. I felt that now it was all in God’s hands.
On my return to Melbourne it was straight into the preps for St Mark’s 150th. 2 weeks after I returned we began a novena of prayer on Corpus Christi Sunday to prepare for the 150th anniversary. The celebrations were well & truly organised, & we were all anticipating a wonderful celebration. In the back of my mind was the thought that at this time of gr8 triumph I might actually be moving on some time soon. I was advised that the C/C would be making their recommendation to the Vestry soon & vestry would make a decision on Tuesday July 1st. The irony of the coincidence was too much for me to bear!
I was subsequently informed that the decision had been deferred to Tuesday July 7th. So as we prepared for the wonderful Mass on July 1st I had in the back of my mind that soon afterwards I might be announcing that I was leaving. The night of the 150th was a wonderful celebration, & the standing ovation for me at the end of the Mass was more than I could cope with. A week later came the day – the meeting being at 12 noon Australia time. In the morning I received – to my surprise – a phone call from Bishop Hughes of SD. He told me that he was going to a meeting of the Vestry that night to consider a new Rector – & that he was going to support my nomination. I did not know what to say! At 12.30 pm the phone call came thru. Judy Borchert, the Senior Warden, explained that she was there with the Vestry & that they were calling to offer me the position of Rector of All Saints’. I replied without hesitation: “I accept” – & laughed with joy! I could not believe it had happened. Nor could I comprehend what I had done. The adventure had begun.
When God did call you here to serve
For a shepherd so to be,
To teach and preach His word to us,
So His salvation we would see.
A shepherd has to find the lost
And bring them safely home.
He heals the wounds with loving care
To those left alone.
A shepherd knows his flock by name,
And ministers to their needs.
In joy and sorrow he is there,
And to them he gently feeds.
To give your guidace through His word,
His love through you must flow.
To feed us all, each one unique,
And the flock together bind.
We are so blessed that you did come,
Our shepherd and our friend.
May our Saviour grant you all the best
Until your journey’s end.
Doris Edwards, November 2008
from the weekly magazine San Diego Reader, NOV 2006
Sheep and Goats by Matthew Lickona – published November 9, 2006
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Hillcrest
Founded locally: 1897
Senior pastor: Tony Noble
Congregation size: 175
Staff size: four priests, seven lay (including school)
Sunday school enrollment: 14
Singles program: no
Dress: a shade toward formal, but varied
Diversity: very diverse, though majority
Sunday worship: 8 a.m. Low Mass; 10 a.m. Solemn Mass
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 45 minutes
It wasn’t so much the 22 candles being lit for the High Mass celebrating All Saints’ Day at All Saints’ Episcopal Church; it was the guys lighting them: two strapping young Polynesians in floor-length black cassocks. Later, they showed up bearing candles, white albs over their cassocks, processing behind an equally imposing young man whipping his smoking thurible in great, controlled arcs that rose above his head before he yanked the brazen vessel back toward the floor. The three were preceded by two bagpipers and a drum and followed by a banner-bearer, the verger, the choir (also in cassocks and albs), the subdeacon and deacon, guest preacher Archdeacon David Lowman, and, finally, the rector, Father Tony Noble, draped in an embroidered gold cloak highlighted by a midnight-blue mantle bearing the image of Mary and the infant Jesus. Noble ascended the steps at the front of the church, past the choir stalls; ascended again into the sanctuary, past the communion rail; ascended a third time to the altar set against the front wall. He turned and greeted the congregation and then joined in a second procession (minus the pipers and the choir) around the church, while everybody sang over the lively organ: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest…” When he returned to the Sanctuary — stopping at the communion rail to doff the cloak and mantle and don a gold chausible — he censed the altar, genuflecting frequently before the domed tabernacle. The attending deacon and subdeacon did the same.
References to the saints permeated the Mass. “My dear brothers and sisters,” said Noble at the outset, “we come to rejoice today in our communion with the saints in heaven. We give thanks for their examples and their prayers.” After Kyrie and the Gloria (both sung, like much of the Mass), the Collect invoked the grace of God, “who has knit together thy elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Thy Son,” so that “we may come to know the ineffable joys” of heaven.
The saints were in the songs, both those sung by the congregation and those performed by the choir: “These are they which came out of great tribulation/ and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And at one point, Noble asked the Sunday-school children to come forward bearing saints’ statues, show them to the congregation, and say something about them. Up they came: Thomas, Therese, Peter, Paul, Anthony of Padua… A little girl bore a white porcelain statue of Mary about half as big as she was. “The angel told her she was going to have a baby.” “And who was the baby?” asked Noble. “Jesus.”
Archdeacon Lowman began his sermon by quoting the demons in Cardinal Newman’s poem “The Dream of Gerontius,” set to music by Edward Elgar. “‘What’s a saint? A bundle of bones which fools adore when life is o’er — ha ha…’. Though I know the piece quite well, this passage always shocks me. It raises big questions. What’s a saint? Well, I’ve seen various bits of Saint Claire, Saint Francis, Saint Peter. I’ve seen the heart of Saint Teresa of Avila and her left forearm.” Lowman knew from bones. But, he said, “Let’s go back to the Scriptures, first of all to Isaiah. There he is in the temple, when he suddenly sees the Lord God in glory. And he cries out, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips.’ He’s seen the glory and the holiness of God, and he’s changed forever…. A bundle of bones which fools adore when life is o’er? No. It is the living Body of Christ, touched by the vision of holiness we have seen in Jesus Christ and received in His gospel teaching.” And as a model for saintly sanctity, he offered the Beatitudes listed in the Gospel, reading, “revolutionary words which have turned the world and its values upside-down.”
Before the final prayers, Noble invited the congregation to return that evening “for evensong and Benediction. We only do this once a year, and today’s the day.” He noted the new tabernacle and new monstrance, both blessed earlier that morning, and invited the congregation to come up and admire them after Mass. “By tradition, the tabernacle is covered…to symbolize the presence of Christ in the sacrament…. I deliberately left it off this morning.” Then he said, “What a day to honor Mary as the queen of all saints. Let’s stand and say the Angelus.” All rose and turned to face a statue of the Virgin. “The angel of the Lord brought the tidings to Mary. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost. Hail Mary, full of grace…”
What happens when we die?
“I hope that I shall go to heaven,” says Lowman. — Matthew Lickona